Ralph Nader, renowned environmental and consumer advocate, lectured at Hamilton College on February 10 as a part of Hamilton's Levitt Public Affairs Center's lecture series. The spring 2004 series is titled: "The Environment: Public Policy and Social Responsibility." The series' title seemed to capture the essence of Nader's own lecture, as he openly discussed environmental, social, and political concerns and the possible effects of such issues on our world's future.
Beginning with personal anecdotes as to why and how he became interested in environmental issues, Nader described the early days of the environmental movement. Although people became more aware of "green" issues over time, it was truly the will and determination of early activists and ecologists who shaped the movement. By 1970, the environmental movement truly solidified, as the first Earth Day in April of 1970 brought an "astonishing" intensity.
Shifting from the issues of yesterday to the current situation of the nation's environment, Nader discussed a range of ecological concerns, including toxic emissions, forest depletion, and indoor pollution. According to Nader, toxins "escape our sensory vigilance;" as we cannot physically see automobile or manufacturing emissions, they become less important to our immediate concerns as citizens. Nader explained how pollutions of all sorts are silent killers, but, he said this can be avoided, and children can live without lead poisoning and bad water. Nader urged people to take environmental issues and raise their level of importance so that they are discussed on the national political platform. By appealing less to our senses and more to our "mental alerts," he humorously explained how this issue could become important in Washington politics.
According to Nader, the United States seems well behind other nations in attempting to become more environmentally-friendly. He offered a solution to companies in the US who fail to attempt more ecologically efficient ways of manufacturing: tax pollution. Nader argued that if you force companies and industries to monetarily pay for their external damages to the environment, it would force companies to look at pollution and deal with it seriously. As it stands now, Nader said, companies feel little to no ramifications for their production of damaging pollutants. If regulations were implemented and universally enforced, then pollution may not be as severe. Similarly, Nader argued, that knowledge allows people to learn how harmful pollution truly is, and the more popular issues are, the more difficult it is to ignore such issues. Additionally, large manufacturers could save more money in the end if they became more environmentally efficient today by implementing more energy efficient ways of manufacturing and generating power.
After discussing issues surrounding both the international automobile and oil industries, Nader offered solutions as to how United States can become more environmentally friendly. His first answer: allow industrial hemp to be grown in the U.S. With thousands of industrial uses, the production of this product would not only help stimulate America's agriculture, but also the sectors of the economy that rely on the importation of the product from other nations.
Shifting away from strict ecological issues, Nader then discussed at length the importance of education, social interaction, and civic involvement. "You are not awarding yourself enough significance," Nader informed his audience. Stressing the importance of a liberal arts education, Nader also suggested ways students could become more involved on campus, in communities, and in political and environmental movements.
Following the lecture was an open forum where the audience thanked Nader for his inspirational address and asked questions regarding the media, the economy, and the 2004 presidential election.